Pre 1992

The Formative Years

In 1977 Sir Elton John appointed the late Graham Taylor OBE as manager of Watford FC and their vision for a successful team on the pitch and a pioneering community club flourished.  At the time, football was struggling with hooliganism and the Government were considering introducing supporter membership cards, but Watford FC became pioneers in creating a family friendly club which belonged to the community. Players were encouraged to visit schools, work places and local pubs and these activities formed the basis for the creation of the Football in the Community scheme and the charitable Trust in later years.

Trivia Time

In what time did Graham Taylor finish the 1983 London Marathon?

  • 2 hrs 59 mins
  • 3 hrs 21 mins
  • 4 hrs 5 mins

Highlights of the Era

Graham Taylor runs in the 1983 London marathon raising £27,000 for the construction of the Family Terrace.

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The Family Enclosure had been created in front of the Main Stand in 1980, and proved a great success.  So too had the Junior Hornets, launched in the same year.  The club wanted to go further in its family initiatives by constructing a new Family Terrace in a little-used part of the ground alongside the Main Stand.  Resources were limited, so Graham Taylor ran the London Marathon in April 1983 to raise the funding.  

A sponsorship scheme was set up.  A form was stapled into the programme for one match, and appeals were made in subsequent programmes.  Sponsors had their names printed in recognition of their support.  

Ultimately the Terrace cost £29,234 to build, almost all of which was covered by donations.  This was the first Family Terrace to be constructed at a British football ground.  

By the way, Graham completed the marathon in the very respectable time of 3 hours 21 minutes!


The "Football Friends” community tournament was launched in 1986 in conjunction with Hertfordshire Constabulary.

The Family Enclosure opened in front of the Main Stand, the first of its kind in any football ground in Britain.

The Junior Hornets club launched in 1980 under the stewardship of the formidable Ann Swanson.

Watford FC’s community work is recognised as they win the prestigious Radio Times/Canon League Family Awards in both 1984 and 1985.

A number of community initiatives were developed and launched up to 1991, including the “Watford Outwards Bound Scheme” for disadvantaged fans, the Watford International Festival of Football, a Street Football competition and Carols by Floodlight at Vicarage Road.

“One year [1985] he (Sir Elton John) came and gave out Easter eggs with me to all the kids in the family enclosure which was brilliant."

Ann Swanson

Share Your Memories

Do you have any memories or photos of meeting Graham and the players at community events, if so, we would love to hear them.
Were you a Junior Hornet?  Do you have any memories of sitting in the Family Enclosure/Terrace with Ann Swanson?
If so, please share them with your fellow ‘Orns and we will publish the best memories and pictures.

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Taking Shape

Following on from the pioneering work of Sir Elton, Graham Taylor and Ann Swanson, the wider football community took notice and launched the Football in the Community scheme. A pilot scheme was held in the North West which included Manchester City, Manchester United, Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers, Bury and Oldham and it was acknowledged that the model would learn from the successes of the community projects implemented at Watford.

Watford officially joined the scheme in 1992 with the appointment of John McDermott from Leeds United as the first Football in the Community Officer.  From the humble beginnings of a broom cupboard and a bag of balls, this is where the 25 year history of the Trust officially started, although we all recognise its heritage actually began from the appointment of Graham Taylor in 1977! 

john mcdermott

Trivia Time

Which country did the Trust first visit in 1994 to take part in a youth football tournament?

  • Netherlands
  • France
  • Germany
holland tour

Training with the club was the highlight of everyone’s week, because they really saw themselves as part of Watford and it really made them feel part of something.

Chris PuntManager of Balmoral Centre

Highlights of the Era

Disability links are formed with the Balmoral Centre, a day centre for adults with learning difficulties in Watford, and regular coaching sessions begin.

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The Balmoral Centre was a daycare facility in Watford for adults with learning disabilities and special needs.  As an early example of its involvement in social inclusion, the Football in the Community team began supporting it in the early 1990s, when Jimmy Gilligan organised regular football participation sessions.  

The links were developed further under Kirk Wheeler and Rob Smith expanded the sessions into weekly training, with up to 30 participants.  Before long Sky Sports ran a feature, and other clubs started to take notice and follow Watford’s lead.

The half-time penalty shootouts at home games would sometimes feature disability teams too – giving the participants the thrill of playing at Vicarage Road in front of hugely supportive crowds.

Chris Punt, who worked at the centre, believes the sessions helped to build the participants’ self-esteem.


The “Good Citizen” sticker album launched in conjunction with Herts County Council and Hertfordshire Police with sponsorship from Bell Cablemedia.

John McDermott appointed in 1992 and his position was funded by the Footballers Further Education and Voluntary Training Scheme run by the Professional Footballers Association.

Jimmy Gilligan, a former Watford FC player and holder of the distinguished record of scoring the club's first goal in Europe, succeeded John in 1993.

A first, with more to follow, as in 1994, 15 boys are selected from community programmes and taken on a trip to the Netherlands to compete in a tournament.

In 1996 Kirk Wheeler and Rob Smith (the current Director of the Trust) are appointed.

Share Your Memories

Were you one of the 15 boys who went on the very first Trust European trip to Holland? Do you have any memories or photos to share?

Do you have any stories from the early days of coaching courses run by Kirk and Rob?

If so, please share them and we will post the best ones on this site.

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A Great Leap Forward

With Graham Taylor back and in charge of team affairs, this was a period of success on the field.  It also saw significant development in the aims and activities of the Trust, with visionary and far-reaching major projects being set up.  These included the Player Development Centres and the construction of the Learning Centre at the stadium.

The organisational structure was also put onto a new footing.  The club set up the ‘Families, Youth and Community’ department, with Football in the Community and Watford Learning along with the Junior Hornets coming under its banner.  Staffing levels increased too, with co-funding arrangements put in place to employ a full-time teacher (Julia Bateson) for the Learning Centre, a sports development post in the Dacorum region (Simon MacQueen) and a regeneration post in West Watford (Gareth Jones).  

Trivia Time

The Learning Centre first opened in 2001 but in which stand was is situated?

  • Rous/GT Stand
  • Rookery Stand
  • East Stand
learning centre

We’ve still got young people that we coached and grew up with from U11’s and U12’s, running out for our Ladies First Team today.

Rob ClarkeFormer Head of Girls Centre of Excellence, now Head of Skills and Quality Assurance

Highlights of the era

Girls Centre of Excellence established in 2001 – the first of its type in Hertfordshire. The sponsorship partnership with TOTAL is launched.

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The Girls Centre of Excellence opened in 2001 and at the time was the first of its type in Hertfordshire.

It started with just two teams, for U12’s and U14’s, who were given expert coaching under the guidance of Rob Clarke and Rob Smith. Further age groups were added so that it met the full FA Centre of Excellence criteria and teams were entered into the London and South-East league.  Success soon followed, and some notable achievements included Laura Davey being selected to represent England as first choice goalkeeper.

At the time the teams were on a par with Arsenal Ladies and coaches included Nick Cox, who is now head of the Manchester United Academy, John McDermott who now heads up the Spurs Academy and John Salomon who went on to manage the full Ladies team to great success.

The Centre of Excellence became a pathway for many girls to build a career in football and sport. Some went on to play in America through University scholarship schemes and others benefited from gaining FA Level 1 coaching qualifications. Coaching and Physio mentoring schemes were also established with links to both the University of Hertfordshire and Brunel University.

The Girls Centre of Excellence is another example of how the Trust was a pioneer and gave expert coaching to many hundreds of girls, many of whom went on to play at a high level as well as developing a lifelong career in sport.


A total of 20,000 juniors and adults involved in Football in the Community projects in 1997, this increased to 44,000 by 1999.

First Player Development Centre (PDC) opened for higher ability junior players - seen as a pathway into the Watford FC Academy.

New initiatives in girls’ football and special needs coaching introduced.

Learning Centre opened in the old East Stand and its head, Julia Bateson, launches “Playing for Success” scheme in 2000. Advanced PDC players take part in Paris tournament.

Partnership with Herts Careers Services to help 14-16 year olds make the transition into full-time employment. “Opportunities Day” held to support learning disability students with job-seeking skills.

Share Your Memories

Were you one of the pupils who studied at the Learning Centre? Do you have any memories or photos to share?
Do you have any stories from the early days of the Player Development Centres?
If so, please share them and we will post the best ones on this site. 

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Playing A Role In Everyday Lives

During this period the Trust became a registered charity and became known by its current name of the Watford FC Community Sports and Education Trust.  Its core role was defined as being “to enable the football club to harness the positive power of the club and football to improve the quality of life for everyone who participates in Trust activities”.

The Learning Centre was growing fast in terms of the numbers of programmes being offered, students being welcomed, and awards being achieved for quality in study support.  Its national recognition was such that it even received a visit from Tony Blair, the Prime Minister.
The Trust was by now also involved with partner organisation in projects delivering positive messages on healthy living as well as encouraging socially acceptable behaviour.

watford trust

Trivia Time

In which year did the Trust become a registered charity?

  • 2003
  • 2004
  • 2006

Highlights of the era

The Learning Centre provided learning opportunities to 9,000 students aged from 5 to 75 during the 2002-03 season.

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The Learning Centre had opened in 2000, initially in the East Stand at Vicarage Road, to provide opportunities for less academically-inclined children to achieve their potential.  It was part of a government scheme, Playing for Success, which established similar centres around the country using sport as a motivational tool for raising literacy, numeracy and ICT standards among 7-14 year-olds who were struggling academically.

The Trust’s educational support initiatives continued with the launch of the BEST project.  BEST stood for Bringing Education and Sport Together, and consisted of Watford-themed classroom lessons on health and nutrition, with associated sports activities indoors or outdoors.  After a trial, this was sponsored for three years by the Watford Supporters Trust, and then picked up for a national roll-out by the Football League Trust under the title ‘Move and Learn’ and with sponsorship from Ferrero-Rocher. 

Watford FC’s Community Sports & Education Trust becomes a registered charity (reg. charity no. 1102239) in 2004.

The “Learning Bus” is launched at London Colney training ground by Luca Vialli.

The second Learning Centre is opened in 2003.

Participation numbers on Trust activities grew to 85,000 in 2004, with over 30 schools and organisations receiving practical assistance every week.

The Trust is voted as “Best Community Sports Project” and “Best Overall Grassroots Scheme” at the 2006 Sportsmatch Annual Awards. The Learning Centre is awarded “Established” status.

watford trust

The BEST health programme is one of the best local programmes that we have known. It has now gone national!

Gordon TaylorProfessional Footballers’ Association

Share Your Memories

Did you meet Tony Blair when he visited the Learning Centre?  Did you meet some of the Watford players who supported the learning programmes?

Did you experience one of the adult programmes at the Learning Centre? Do you have any memories or photos to share?

If so, please share them and we will post the best ones on this site.

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National Recognition For The Trust

This period was one of reward and recognition for the Trust along with the launch of programmes which have developed and are still part of our delivery programme today.  It was also in this period that the very person who 30 years earlier had created the vision for the Trust, became its Patron. The late and very much missed, Graham Taylor OBE.

watford trust

Trivia Time

Following the launch of the Kickz programme in 2007 in Harrow, the local community saw a drop in anti-social behaviour of xx%. Was it by

  • 37%
  • 32%
  • 27%

Highlights Of The Era

The Trust is awarded the prestigious “Community Club of the Year” in both 2008 and 2010 and is runner up in 2009.

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The Trust and indeed the club, has received a great deal of recognition for the pioneering approach it developed in the Community.  The early years, prior to the formation of the Football in the Community scheme in 1992, are now recognised as visionary in terms of the creation of the Family Terrace and the Learning Centre.  Recognition soon followed in the form of national awards and listed below is a roll call of the major community honours awarded to the Trust/Club from 1984 onwards.

Year Award
1984 The inaugural Canon Annual Family Award
1985 The Radio Times/Canon Annual Family Award
1989 Second division Football Trust Community Award
2002 Quality in Study Support Award for Learning Centre
2005 “Established” status award for Learning Centre
2006 Best Community Sports project – Sportsmatch Annual Award
Best Overall Grassroots Scheme – Sportsmatch Annual Award
2008 Community Club of the Year
2010 Football League Community Club of the Year
2012 FA Womens Coach of the Year – awarded to John Saloman
The High Sherriff of Hertfordshire Award
2016 London Youth Gold Award for Cedars Youth & Community Centre
2017 Bronze Award for Best Football in the Community Scheme

Our partnership with North Herts College is launched in 2011.

Kickz programme is launched at the Cedars Youth Centre in Harrow in conjunction with local police to use football as a way of creating a safer community environment. It led to a 25% reduction in anti-social behaviour within the first year of its launch.

The “Extra Time” social inclusion club is launched for the over 55’s. This is now running 3 times per week at Vicarage Road stadium, Meriden Community Centre and Cedars Youth & Community Centre.

The Trust is awarded a £4.2M My Place grant to completely redevelop the Cedars Youth & Community Centre in Harrow.

83,000 students have now passed through the Learning Centre since it was first opened 11 years ago in 2000.

watford trust

It was absolutely fantastic to pick up the award. There is an ethos that runs through our club, a culture that really engages with our local community

Mark AshtonFormer Watford FC Chief Executive

Share Your Memories

Do you have any memories of the early days of the Kickz programme.  Have you met any first team Watford FC players at a session?
Have you attended one of Kingy’s courses at North Herts College and how has it helped you in your career?
Has the Extra Time club helped you to meet new people and make new friends?

If so, please share them and we will post the best ones on this site.

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Improving Lives, Enhancing Communities

A period of community development as the Trust regenerates run down centres into state of the art youth and community centres, offering a multitude of opportunities for local people. Once again, Watford are forerunners in this area, becoming one of the first clubs to run centres away from the stadium in Harrow (Cedars Youth and Community Centre) and Garston (Meriden Community Centre).

It was also a period of growth for the Trust as by 2017 it was running 15 different programmes, employing 100 full and part time people and reaching 150,000 participants. An incredible growth from when John McDermott was first appointed 25 years earlier and a testament to its Patron, Graham Taylor OBE, who very sadly passed away in January 2017.


Trivia Time

The Cedars Youth & Community Centre development was funded by a grant from MyPlace. How much did the development cost?

  • £2.5m
  • £3.8m
  • £4.2m
cedars ycc

Highlights of the Era

Cedars Youth & Community Centre is opened in Harrow in 2012 after a £4.2M refurbishment and the Trust take over the running of the Meriden Centre in Garston.

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The Trust was a pioneer in the football world in terms of creating community hubs to engage with supporters in their local communities. As with the family terrace and player visits to supporters work places, the Trust led the way in this field. It was a step that others watched with interest and then followed, but once again, Watford were the pioneers.

The Cedars Youth & Community Centre in Harrow project started in 2008 when the Trust, along with Harrow Council, jointly applied to the Department of Education MyPlace Fund for a £4.2M grant. After 4 years of development a flagship centre was opened in 2012 and a mark of its success, amongst many things, was the presentation of the London Youth Gold Mark accreditation by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh in 2016.

After the successful opening of Cedars, the Trust took over the running of the Meriden Centre in Garston, Watford, in partnership with Watford Council in 2012. A £1.8M grant was awarded and after 4 years of development work, a state of the art centre was opened in 2016 by Graham Taylor OBE and Baroness Dorothy Thornhill MBE.

The Trust is shortlisted for the 2017 Football Business Award and it celebrates 25 years of improving lives and enhancing communities.

The flagship Meriden Community Centre is officially opened in November 2016 by Baroness Dorothy Thornhill MBE and Graham Taylor OBE, very sadly proving to be Graham’s last official engagement for the Trust.

Britt Assombolonga makes his first team debut in 2012 after being discovered on a Trust “Herts Inclusive” project. Britt has had a successful career playing for Watford, Nottingham Forest and currently Middlesbrough.

The National Citizen Service programme is launched in 2013 as 94 16/17 year olds learn new life skills. By 2017 this had increased to 1,200 students annually.

HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visits the Cedars Centre in 2016 to present the London Youth Gold Accreditation Award.

graham taylor cedars gold award

It’s a fantastic community Hub – so revolutionary. I am incredibly proud about what has been achieved. Cedars is a perfect example of how we can really make a difference to those around us.

Graham TaylorOBE

Share Your Memories

Have you taken part in events at either Cedars or Meriden Community Centres?
Have you been a student on one of our National Citizen Service programmes and if so, what was the most memorable part?

If so, please share them and we will post the best ones on this site.

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Looking Forward

Looking Forward

A message from Community Director Rob Smith:

Ever since I joined the club in 1996, I have had the privilege of being part of the community scheme which has seen huge growth over the years. As well as running two community facilities we provide a diverse range of community projects, activities and events all year round. By doing this we are able to have a positive impact on local people on a daily basis.

As a self-financing charity we now need a period of stability. Sometimes you need to take stock and that’s what we are doing at the moment. Looking to the immediate future, the key areas that we will focus on are to

  • Celebrate the 25th Year Anniversary with a host of events and a commemorative book.
  • Secure funding and agree designs for the Meriden Community Centre Play Area.
  • Finalise plans for the Cedars Youth and Community Centre extension.
  • Agree and launch a brand-new strategy for the Trust.
  • Start a new three-year mental health project for children and young adults.

The journey so far with the Trust has been about people, it’s the people that have made the success to date. There are still huge amounts to do, but when I look around the people that I’m sitting next to I know that it’s in safe hands because I see the passion, I work with them on a daily basis and I see what it means to them. Any success we’ve had is about the people, the volunteers, everybody involved in supporting the Trust on a daily, weekly basis.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has supported us in one way or another over the last 25 years and because of this we can look forward to the future with a great amount of optimism.

Rob SmithCommunity Director


With Thanks To...

This project would not have been possible without the support of HLF, funded by the National Lottery Players, including a £55,000 grant.

The local museum has shown support throughout the 25th year anniversary project, both with the planned exhibition and the research required to make it happen.

The university’s heritage team have been heavily involved with the research behind this project, including providing equipment and guidance.

The invaluable dedication of a select number of volunteers have enabled this project to come to life. The Trust’s thanks goes to Geoff Wicken, Pete Bradshaw, Teresa Flaherty, Andy Smith, Tim Streeton, Jo Zanetti, Allan Flowers, Laura De Haan, Franklin O’Riordan.